Black church-burning hoax

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The black church-burning hoax of the 1990s was started in 1996 and received nationwide attention. The flames of the hoax were fanned by USA Today writer Gary Fields [1] and by the liberal group Center for Democratic Renewal[2] .

While many black churches were burned, reporter Michael Fumento proved that there was no evidence to support the claim of an increase in arsons of black churches in America. Moreover, he points out that only three of the fires were actually racially motivated. [3]

Overall, the rate of church arsons actually fell during that period. [4]

Tragically, the hoax itself caused a temporary increase in church arsons; [5] see Copycat crime.

The Center for Democratic Renewal used the hoax to attack the Christian right, and their chair C.T. Vivian claimed there was only a "slippery slope" between conservative Christians and those who were burning the churches. [6]

Journalist Michael Kelly noted: "Placing the blame for the church burnings on a cultural conspiracy of white racism works toward two important political goals. First, by changing the definition of the word 'conspiracy' to implicate not only the whites who have actually plotted to burn a church but whites in general and the entire American political establishment, it obscures the fact that federal investigators have to date uncovered no evidence of any national, or even regional, conspiracy in any of the fires..." [7]

The Center for Democratic Renewal and the National Council of Churches took advantage of the hoax for fundraising. The two groups established a fund for the burned churches and to "challenge racism throughout the country." The fund raised $12 million by May 1997, leaving them with a $7.5 million surplus since only $4.5 million would be enough to rebuild all the churches; they announced plans to spend the extra on advocacy programs on so-called "interlocking oppressions from gender to homophobia." The fund was headed by Mac Jones, former leader of a support committee for Communist Angela Davis, and Don Rojas, former press secretary for the ex-Communist dictator of Grenada, Maurice Bishop. [8]

Notes

  1. No single reporter had played a greater role than the newspaper's Gary Fields, who has written over 70 articles on the issue. [1]
  2. The CDR had systematically ignored fires set by blacks and those that occurred in the early part of the decade; it had also labeled some fires as arson that clearly were not – all in an apparent effort to make black church torchings appear to be an escalating phenomenon. [2]
  3. http://www.fumento.com/suarson.html
  4. A private group, the National Fire Protection Association, keeps careful track of church arsons. While their data don't break down churches by race, they do show a dramatic drop in the number of church arsons, from 1,420 in 1980 to 520 in 1994. [3]
  5. In the first five months of 1996, there were 34 arsons against black churches and 32 against nonblack ones. In just the next four months, this jumped to 58 in black churches and 102 in nonblack ones, according to the Church Arson Task Force. These were mostly copycat fires. Arrested arsonists told police that they "saw it on the news and this became the thing to do," explained James E. Johnson, an assistant Treasury secretary who served as the task force's co-chairman. [4]
  6. Wilcox, Laird. The Watchdogs, Editorial Research Service, Olathe, KS, 1999, pp. 69-70.
  7. Kelly, Michael, "Playing With Fire". The New Yorker, 15 July 1996.
  8. Wilcox, p. 70

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